St Stephen Lewisham
30th January 2005
God’s Work in Creation
Some years ago, two teenage schoolboys spent their half-term weekend as guests of a middle-aged clergyman called Father Vanstone. Being much older than his two guests, he found himself trying to think up something to keep them occupied during their stay.
The weather was appalling, so they couldn’t go for a country walk; anyway, if they were like me at that age, a country walk would seem a fate worse than death!
Eventually however he hit on the idea that his two guests should make a model, in the lid of a large cardboard-box, of a bit of countryside which he and they had recently visited – using earth and stones and twigs from his garden, plaster of Paris and paint from his studio.
Well, the boys accepted this idea with courtesy rather than enthusiasm – an enthusiasm which dropped below zero as they collected their unattractive raw material – old paint in dirty cans from the garden shed, stones, dead twigs and earth from the garden, and started on their creation in the lid.
But then a remarkable thing happened. As their ‘creation’ began to ‘take shape’ they found themselves becoming more and more enthusiastic about it. Meal- and bed-times became ultra-flexible and soon nothing could tear them away from it.
Much time was spent by the boys in deciding exactly where a particular stone or twig should be positioned, here, or there – but the ‘right’ place for it sooner or later became obvious. Occasionally what had seemed just the right place at first, turned out to be wrong: nothing wrong with the twig or stone in itself, but in relation to other stones or twigs which had been added later.
So their model grew: and in growing it took on more and more value in the minds of its two creators. Father Vanstone says, ‘When eventually the model was left in my care, I felt a quite serious responsibility for its safety’. In other words their creation changed into something of far greater value than its materials – sticks, stones, earth, plaster and paint.
Valuable, not because it was particularly beautiful or expertly made, but because of the work which they had put into its creation, the care with which they had created it, and the sheer satisfaction that they gained from the fact that they had created it. You might say they had come to love it: love it, not because it was lovable in any obvious sense, but simply because it was theirs – their very own.
The story of God’s Creation resembles their experience. There are some differences of course: God created the materials of Creation whilst the boys used something that was already there; God got it ‘right first time’ so there was no need to alter anything afterwards.
Now let’s imagine ourselves as angel spectators during the Creation. How would we feel?
We might at first be puzzled to know why God wanted to create a material universe at all. As angels are purely spiritual beings the materials of creation – stones and trees and earth and water for example – would seem incredibly messy and boring stuff, as those boys at first saw them to be.
But as God’s Creation begins to take shape, we angels, like those boys, would find ourselves getting more and more excited. Those materials of Creation which seemed boring and messy are beginning to take on different look – when seen in their proper place. Little by little, Creation is now beginning to ‘take shape’ and ‘make sense’ before our very eyes. No wonder, as the Bible tells us, that when Creation was finished " the morning stars sang together and all the Sons of God shouted for joy".
But we angels would then become aware of a quite different, feeling. It’s called anticipation. It’s the sense that every step in God’s Creation-business is just that – a step – but, like a staircase, each step is leading upwards to Something much more important than itself; that Creation itself is merely setting the scene, providing the backdrop, for what is to follow. And we’d be right – because that ‘Something’ what Creation is working up to is nothing less than God’s creation of Man in His own image.
We’d be excited; but then we might start feeling puzzled again. ‘What on earth is God up to now?’, we ask ourselves. He’s made a wonderful creation; he’s created us angels to do him service; what’s the point creating these puny-looking beings called men and women (puny compared with us angels, that is) who have to learn everything all over again from birth, but, more seriously, always seems to be doing precisely the things God has forbidden?
Well, what we angels don’t– and couldn’t – know at this stage is that creating Man in His own image was itself only another step in God’s total plan. Man’s free-will is indeed a key item on God’s agenda; but the next critical step is when God himself becomes Man in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. His birth as man, (which, incidentally, involved the co-operation of another human being, namely the Virgin Mary, for it’s fulfilment) was all part of God’s Plan for transforming mankind from our humble state, way below that of the angels, into His sons – something to which no angel could ever aspire to be or become.
Like us angels, the two boys were continually being surprised to find that something which just didn’t ‘fit’ at a particular stage of their creation, suddenly had a place waiting for it. The angels would have felt utterly bewildered on Good Friday when God the Son was put to death as a criminal by his own creatures. But it was Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost which enabled everything else to ‘fall into place’. By his perfect sacrifice God the Son, Jesus Christ, restored man from the death of sin to the life of righteousness – "by rising from the dead he destroyed death and restored life. And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace", as one of the prayers at Mass puts it.
Which brings us where we are this morning – down to earth with a bump you might say. No longer imaginary angels, but what we are in reality – ordinary men and women whom God chooses to make extraordinary. In St Paul’s words we have been ‘chosen by God to shame the wise, those who are weak by human reckoning to shame the strong… for God has made us members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom and our strength and our holiness and our freedom’.
Like Jesus, the rejected stone who became the keystone of the building, God has chosen you and me to be ‘living stones’ in his New Creation, the Church, the Body of Christ on earth. In due course we shall find that God has fitted us perfectly into that place He designed for us on the first day of Creation.
But let’s remember that, like everything else worthwhile, this process takes time, patience and effort. If those boys had given up on their appointed work there would have been no creation for them to enjoy, and no satisfaction to experience. Their half-term would have been boring and frustrating waste of time.
If, like them, we persevere with the building God has begun in us, we can look forward to an eternity of satisfaction and joy; but if we give up, we may expect is a full-term of unending boredom and frustration.
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